Imagine yourself back in early December 1993. MTV still played music videos. Meatloaf was on top of the Billboard charts with “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” “Jurassic Park” was setting records with gross earnings and “Saved By The Bell: The College Years” was ruining every teenager’s hope that the show would carry on forever. The World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and people still relied on television and newspaper for their daily dose of culture and information.
In the college football world, Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators were starting a run where the SEC East would win seven of the first ten SEC Championship games, including six in a row from 1993-98. The Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers would both win national titles in this dominant stretch where very little went right for the West champion in the Georgia Dome. It appeared that the East could be in the driver’s seat for years to come.
However, as most fans know, college football is cyclical. The all-time series now sits at 11-11. After trading blows in the early 2000s, the tide turned and the West has won seven of the last ten, including five in a row from 2009-13. The East has been taken behind the woodshed more often than not in recent years, and many pundits predict the same in 2014. If the division is to end its streak of futility in 2014, much of the burden will rest on the shoulders of quarterbacks who have yet to lead their teams for an entire season. The Georgia Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks are the early favorites to possibly win the East and are replacing three of the best quarterbacks in their respective program’s history.
Gone are Aaron Murray, James Franklin and Connor Shaw. Enter Hutson Mason, Maty Mauk and Dylan Thompson into the fray. Each of these quarterbacks saw limited action in 2o13, but when called upon, they performed well and gave fans a reason to hope. All three stepped in for the injured starters at various points of the season and were able to lead their teams to victories. Mason and Thompson are seniors and pocket passers with extensive knowledge of the offense. Mauk is only a sophomore, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in athleticism and a knack for the big play. Mason was able to lead Georgia to a comeback overtime victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the last game of the regular season. Thompson faced a hostile crowd in Orlando and was able to secure a win over the surging Central Florida Knights. Mauk was the most impressive, leading Missouri to three SEC victories as Franklin nursed a separated shoulder. These quarterbacks will have to show extreme poise under pressure early as Georgia travels to Columbia, SC to face the Gamecocks on Sept. 13 and to Columbia, Mo. to face the Tigers on Oct. 11. Mauk and Thompson will square off on Sept. 27 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The team that emerges from those early season scrapes will likely represent the East in Atlanta. With the Gators still reeling from a 4-8 season and a coach on the hot seat and the Volunteers adding so many new faces, it may be a couple of years before they find themselves in contention. Then again, the injury bug and Lady Luck can change the landscape in a matter of seconds. Regardless of who takes the reigns in the East, they will face someone from a division that won or played for the last five national championships. This will be a tall task for the new quarterbacks in the East, and this offseason will be extremely important as they inch closer to their big day in the sun.
It has been 20 years since the East began their streak of dominance in the SEC Championship game. Times have changed dramatically. The World Wide Web is now indeed worldwide. ”Jurassic Park” is no longer in the Top 10 in gross earnings. Most of the “Saved By the Bell” cast members are 40-years-old, and Meatloaf has disappeared from the music world. The West has asserted itself as the bell-cow of the conference. Fans of the East contenders “would do anything” for another SEC championship, and these signal-callers better be prepared from day one if they want to return to past glory.
Brad Stephens is an SEC Football writer for Rantsports.com. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @bradstephens320.